A protester holds a sign featuring the pictures of the conservative supreme court justices and the words "blood on your hands."

Pre-Roe Abortion Bans Taking Effect Open the Door To Other Disturbing ‘Zombie Laws’

Since the Supreme Court issued its decision overturning Roe v. Wade, states across the country have been working to implement abortion bans. Some of these are new bans being introduced but many are “trigger bans”—laws that were passed post-Roe, with lawmakers knowing they couldn’t be enforced but which were designed to take effect as soon as Roe was overturned.

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On top of those, nine states have laws on the books banning abortion from before Roe v. Wade. Some of those laws are more than 100 years old and these states now have to figure out what to do with them. In Michigan, a judge blocked their 90-year-old ban from being enforced. Last week in Arizona, a court allowed a 150-year-old ban to take effect. It’s a mess.

What makes all of these bans even messier is that abortion is not the only issue at play. Included in (or otherwise linked to) these bans are other so-called “zombie laws”—statutes that might not be regularly or even ever enforced but are still technically on the books. And they go far beyond just restricting abortion.

In Idaho, a 50-year-old penal code outlawing abortion also makes it a felony to provide or “advertise” contraception. We’re already seeing the effects of that play out at the University of Idaho, which has been advised not to provide birth control to students.

There’s been a fight happening in Michigan over a 90-year-old abortion ban. A judge recently declared it unconstitutional but the ban on abortion is not the only troubling part of that law, which also criminalizes seduction, adultery, blasphemy, cursing, and sodomy.

According to the Holland Sentinel, at least one county prosecutor is willing to enforce those parts of the law. Just last month, the outlet writes, a college student pleaded guilty to “seduction” in exchange for the dismissal of more serious sexual assault charges. So parts of this law are already being enforced, opening the door for others.

And in Arizona, a judge recently allowed a Civil-War era ban to take effect that mandates prison time for abortion providers. That law, which dates back to 1864, before Arizona was even a state, is part of a larger code of laws that also said no Black, Asian, or Indigenous person could testify against a white person, banned interracial marriage, and also established the age of consent as just 10 years old.

If a judge is able to resurrect one part of that code, there is literally no reason why the others would be safe.

The anti-abortion movement was never going to stop at overturning Roe. We’re now getting a crystal-clear look at where things are headed.

(image: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

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Vivian Kane
Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.